Rebuilding

by DebC


Author's Notes: Tons of notes on this one. First off, this is my 2nd ever Smallville fic. It's a sequel to my first ever one "After the Storm." Any screws up in canon, character or semantics are mine due to just learning my way around. Secondly, this is obviously *my* version of a young, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne. I've based my interpretation of him on years of cartoons and movies and tv versions (sorry, no comics). *These are my interpretations* so even if they don't jive with yours, I hope it won't turn you off from reading further. And Thirdly, this is my first attempt at a slash fic. I've written NC-17 het, but never slash in any rating. Feedback is appreciated. Useful, constructive criticism on either the slash or the Smallville content *WANTED.*
Acknowledgements: This story is dedicated to a lot of people. Liz, Kat, AC & the rest of the weirdos of Clan Denial & the Harem--even though most of you might not read this, you're my corruptors so you get first billing. Julie, Marianne and the Smallville Writing Muses--for all the late night IM sessions, phone calls, and naughty dreams. And to "M" my guide to the all-male relationship.


"Rebuilding"

Part 1

Lionel Luthor had been true to his word. On their last day in Smallville, he reopened the fertilizer plant. Two days after getting his son back to Metropolis and under his thumb, however, and he'd sold said plant.

Lex went rigid with anger when his father told him the news.

"How could you?" Lex demanded, his fists clenched tightly at his sides. He was so angry; he could have killed his father. Only the need for answers kept him from committing the crime.

His father merely gave a slight, disinterested shrug. "I reopened the plant, as you asked, Lex. You did not specify how long it had to remain one of our holdings." Lionel's challenging eyes met his son's angry gaze. "Besides, it was a fair offer for an otherwise worthless piece of property."

"Well we all know anything you don't value must be worthless," Lex chided. His mind raced, anger and hate whirling through his body and soul. His father tricked him--betrayed his trust--and for what? The satisfaction of ruining something Lex held dear?

His further objections were silenced as Lionel waved his hand regally. "Please, Lex, let's not fight over something so trivial as that little crap factory. What's done is done."

"But we had a--" Lex countered, only to be cut off once again by an imperious Lionel.

"I held my end of the bargain; now it's time for you to uphold yours. I have a new job for you, Lex."

The announcement was cold, calmly stated, and sent a wave of panic through the young entrepreneur. But it also signified a turning point in the conversation. As disappointed as Lex was, he knew he had no other choice but to concede to his father.

"What?" he asked crossly, turning away from his father to stare out the window. Somehow, the Metropolis skyline paled in comparison to twinkling stars suspended in the heavens over Smallville.

"I need you to return to Smallville and oversee the finalization of the sale," Lionel informed his son.

"Why me? Aren't you afraid I'll run away or something?"

"Why, Lex... you should know by now, son... there is no place you could run that I could not find you." Lionel Luthor laughed maliciously. "Besides, you're the only one qualified to handle this. Smallville was your project."

Lex's nod of comprehension was almost imperceptible. His emotions were once again in check, like the calm in the eye of a hurricane.

"Good," Lionel continued, taking his son's silence to be acquiescence. Satisfied, he strode towards the door. "All the information you'll need is on the desk. And Lex..." Here he paused as Lex turned to face him at last. "I trust you'll come straight home when this is finished."

Lex scowled at his father's retreating back before approaching the desk. He flipped open the folder his dad had casually tossed aside when this unfortunate meeting began, and his heart promptly fell. If he'd been looking forward to returning to Smallville, he wasn't now.

"Damn," Lex muttered to himself as he read the contents of the folder. His father had covered all possible bases, and in the process, had severed any ties he might have had to this sale.

Leaving his son to take all the blame.

*L*E*X*

Lex's anger with his father had increased tenfold by the time he reached Smallville. The helicopter ride from Metropolis to his once happy rural retreat had given him a bird's eye view of the extended damage the tornado had actually done. It was much worse that he'd first thought, Lex realized. Many of the outlying farms had suffered damage to fields and early crops, not mention their houses and barns. Instead of a summer of planting and harvesting, they would lucky to repair the land at all. As the helicopter came closer to the town itself, Lex could see where buildings on the out-skirts had been torn down by the twister's fury. Then his gaze fell on the lonely fertilizer plant which, like a beacon calling to him, stood as a reminder of a town in despair.

The helicopter landed in the lawn in front of the Luthor ancestral manor. Lex noted with irony that his father had already commissioned a crew to repair the ancient bricks, restoring to beauty a home no one was likely inhabit for many years... if ever again.

Servants flocked to him as he climbed from the helicopter and crossed the lawn. He was informed that while his former living quarters had been extensively damaged, other areas of the castle were still livable. Lex just nodded and ordered his things to be set up in another wing.

He couldn't bear to see this right now, he thought as he barked his next order--for a car to be brought around front. When the Aston Martin appeared a few minutes later, Lex calmly took the keys and sped off.

Internally, however, Lex was anything but calm. Everywhere he looked, his eyes were met with signs of his father's handiwork. People who noticed him on the road scowled in his direction. Someone even flipped him off. Lex assumed it was a disgruntled employee who must have heard by now that money from the plant's sale was being funneled into another LuthorCorp project in Metropolis. The whole town must have heard that much by now, Lex figured.

He was still fuming as he pulled the car up in front of the Kent farmhouse. Killing the engine, but not bothering to remove the key from the ignition, he slammed the door with near-brutal force in his haste.

Mounting the stairs, Lex halted when he reached the front door. Through the screen window, he could see the family in their kitchen. Jonathan Kent sat in a wheel chair at the table, Clark by his side. Martha was busily cooking lunch and listening as her husband read from the Smallville Ledger.

The farmer's voice failed him when he looked up to address his wife and saw Lex standing outside their door.

"Lex!" Clark exclaimed as the Kents stared at him in shock.

Lex took this as all the invitation he needed and opened the door, stepping inside hastily.

"God, Lex. You look like Hell," Clark told him. This afforded Lex a momentary chuckle, even if the irony was, he felt like it, too.

"Thanks, Clark," he replied more sarcastically than he'd intended. His eyes fell on the Ledger whose headlines read: LUTHORCORP FACTORY SOLD--Employees bitter over 'betrayal' by Lex Luthor. Below the words was a picture of Lex and his father.

Lex snorted as he read a few sentences into the actual article. "Well, at least the staff at the castle was glad to see me," was his sardonic comment.

"Lex," Clark looked at him pleadingly. "Please tell me you didn't do this."

Lex was silent for a moment, studying his friend closely. Then he turned to look out the window, his eyes falling upon the doors to the storm cellar. "I can't do that, Clark," he said at last, his voice controlled and unemotional. But his hands were shaking, as they had been that day in his father's office.

"You see, son, I told you not to trust--"

"Dad!" Clark interrupted his father's accusation. He then rounded on Lex. "You know that's not true, Lex."

"Isn't it?" Lex demanded, anger and frustration rising in voice. He snapped his eyes back to met Clark's still-pleading, still hopeful face. "Don't you see, Clark? It doesn't matter if I did it myself or not. Can't you see that I'm responsible for this?"

"Not if you didn't do it," Clark pleaded. "Please, Lex..." He reached out, touching Lex's arm, which was now visibly shaking in his growing fury.

Lex jerked away from the touch, unwilling to be comforted. "No, Clark... you don't get it, do you? I failed. I had my chance to save Smallville...and myself... and I failed."

"Lex," Clark whispered, fear in his voice at the anger he felt radiating from his friend.

Lex barely heard him. "I should have let him die... when the roof collapsed on top of us. I should have saved myself while I still had the chance. I was weak, and because of it, I failed." His word were bitter and angry, more so than the Kents had ever heard coming from Lex Luthor, but Lex hardly noticed the concerned looks that passed between the three of them. He'd slumped into a chair at the kitchen table, bald head fallen into his hands in an expression of despair.

"You didn't fail," a voice said, causing Lex to look up in surprise. "You didn't fail," Jonathan Kent admitted quietly. "You saved his life, Lex, and that proves you're a better man than your father."

Lex wanted to feel comforted by the words of this man who usually condemned him. But he couldn't; he still had to face the rest of town and finalize the sale... and these were things he was loath to do. "Maybe," Lex conceded reluctantly. "But people will still lose their jobs. Smallville still needs to be rebuilt. And thanks to my father, I'm the one getting credit for it. I find it hard to see how that's not a failure."

"And you think things would be any different if your father had died?" Clark asked incredulously.

"Yes, Clark, I do," Lex told him simply.

*L*E*X*

When Lex finally calmed down, he left the Kent farm and headed back to the castle. A part of him wanted to drive on into town and do something... say something... to prove he hadn't been party to this nightmare. But a part of him also knew that no one in Smallville wanted to see him right now. Instead, he followed a butler up to the rooms that had been prepared for him.

The butler politely informed him that a man from Wayne Enterprises had called while Lex had been out. Mr. Wayne was to arrive tomorrow, Lex was told. Mr. Wayne as in the owner of the mega-conglomerate his father only hoped to rival. Lex was impressed. He wondered if his father knew whom he'd sent his wayward son to deal with? He probably didn't, Lex reasoned as he decided whether or not to return the call. It didn't really seem necessary; it wasn't as if he needed to work Mr. Wayne into his otherwise very empty schedule.

Lex was suddenly very angry... again. Handing over the plant was a slap in the face to him, and even though he hadn't done it yet, he was already feeling the sting. "Thanks, Dad," he muttered bitterly as he stalked into the den and poured himself a drink. And then another.

Outside, the construction crew pounded away as it labored to repair the damaged castle. After yet another drink, the incessant hammering began to annoy Lex. He hurled his half-full glass across the room. It sprayed alcohol everywhere as it hit the wall, shattering upon impact. Lex gingerly stepped around some of the glass and then stomped out of the castle.

After a few minutes--and one heart to heart with the foreman--the noise ceased. Lex watched as the construction workers packed up their tools and took off down the highway. He smiled a little, thinking of the neighboring house he'd noticed on the way to Clark's house. The entire roof had blown clear off in the tornado, and Lex had just sent his father's little clean-up crew to do just that... help clean up a place that really needed it. The foreman had protested, of course, but Lex had not-so-politely pointed out that the noise was a distraction and that they could return to work after he'd left again. He also threw in the promise of a generous bonus on top of what his father had already paid them.

Not that Lex thought this small gesture by any means made up for the last few days. He might never be able to undo that damage.

But at least the hammering had stopped for a while.

Part 2

Lex was late getting to the plant the next day. He'd slept in, having gotten drunk while trying to figure out a way to get back at his father. Then he'd been rudely awakened by Lionel Luthor himself, inquiring how things were progressing. Their conversation was thankfully brief although none too pleasant. It left him cranky, and Lex did not like being cranky.

The only upside to the morning phone call, Lex realized as he pulled his sports car up beside a black limousine in the factory parking lot, was that he'd made Wayne Enterprises wait. He smiled thinly as he exited the car and made his way to the front door.

The building was empty, except for two men standing on the main floor. Lex watched them for a moment as they seemed to be inspecting the place. For a moment, his mind flashed backwards a few days to the day his father had told the entire work force they were no longer needed. Swallowing hard to fight down that memory, he strode across the room to where they stood.

The two men turned in Lex's direction as he approached and extended a hand towards the one he assumed was the head of Wayne Enterprises. "Mr. Wayne," he began, but stopped as the two men exchanged amused glances.

"Actually," the younger of the two--a man who looked no older than Lex himself--said as he stepped closer to Lex. "I'm Bruce Wayne." He extended his own hand, taking Lex's and shaking firmly. "And *you're* Lex Luthor, son of Lionel, heir apparent to the throne of LuthorCorp." His words were tinged with mirth. "You see, unlike you, I've done my homework." He smiled at Lex's obvious discomfort, a small, smirking half smile that Lex would come to know very well by the end of the day.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Wayne," Lex covered quickly. "I assumed--"

Bruce cut him off with a laugh. "Don't be! Believe me, I'm used to it by now." When Lex gave him a puzzled look, he shrugged. "Up until a year ago, most of my company's businesses were run by a board of trustees," he explained.

"Until you came of age," Lex said as realization dawned on him.

Bruce nodded. "It was in my father's will that I shouldn't be given too much control before my time. 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely.' "

He smiled again, that same smirking smile, and this time, Lex found himself mirroring it. He wasn't sure why, but he had the feeling he and Bruce Wayne would get along famously.

*L*E*X*

After giving Bruce and his companion--whom Lex had soon learned was his former legal guardian, Alfred Pennyworth--a tour of the facility, Lex led them back to the main office. He was feeling more at ease now than he had been earlier. Bruce had asked all the right questions about the plant and its operations, and seemed to show a surprising amount of interest in what Lex had to say. Lex found it refreshing and a far cry from how most people in the business world treated him. Like his father's puppet on a string.

But not so Bruce Wayne. Bruce treated Lex like an equal, despite the fact that in most ways--wealth, culture and influence--they were quite possibly worlds apart.

Lex showed them into the office. Producing the contract his father's lawyers had drawn up, Lex indicated that Bruce should sit. Bruce complied and Lex pushed the legal papers over to him. "You might want to look the terms over," Lex suggested politely. Bruce had been studying them, but his head shot up at the warning.

"You don't trust your father?" he asked quietly, gazing upon Lex intently.

"It's not a question of whether I trust Lionel; you're the one doing business with him."

Bruce nodded and went back to reading the sale contract. Lex slid into a leather covered chair on the other side of the table and waited for Bruce to finish his perusal of the document.

Lex found himself studying the young CEO in front of him, mystified by the man he'd so recently met for the first time. Bruce Wayne was nothing like the men Lex was used to dealing with in this business. His age--so close to Lex's own that Lex wondered how they'd never managed to cross paths before--was the most obvious distinction, but it wasn't the only one. Bruce wore his family wealth casually, like an old pair of sweats and a tee-shirt. He neither flaunted it, nor seemed inhibited by it any fashion. The ease in which his face formed a smile was a testament to that. Bruce's smile...

Suddenly keenly aware of being watched, Lex looked up and found his companion studying him as well. Bruce's eyes burned into him, smoldering with... "What?" Lex asked, drawing his mind back to the present before it could escape down an even more dangerous path.

Bruce smiled at him, his lips curling into an almost too knowing smirk. "I think I'll fax this," he indicated to the contract Lex had given him "to my own lawyers. I'm sure Lionel will understand my caution." His words were confidently spoken with just a hint of sarcasm.

"I'm sure," echoed Lex, his eyes fixated upon Bruce's smile. A primal part of Lex wanted nothing more than to close the gap between them and kiss that smirk from Bruce's lips. As soon as this thought, however, formed in Lex's mind, Bruce laughed as if he'd heard it, his laughter a lyrical mirror of the smile on his face.

Lex shook his head slightly, expelling these thoughts. He hadn't reacted this way to anyone--male or female--in a long time, he realized. Not since he'd first begun to explore his sexuality and everything and everyone seemed new and exciting had he reacted this way to the slightest hint of flirtation. And he hardly needed to be doing so now. Too much had happened recently for Lex to let his guard down for a handsome face.

A handsome face that was still regarding him intently, Lex realized, feeling something tighten within him. "What?" he asked again, not wanting to let himself fantasize further.

"You don't remember me do you, Lex?" Bruce asked, throwing Lex completely off guard.

"Should I?"

"Quite possibly not," Bruce admitted. He shrugged lightly, his shoulders rolling in a fluid, sensual motion. "We went to the same school once, briefly."

Lex thought he would have remembered someone like Bruce Wayne, but in truth he'd been kicked out of so many boarding schools in his youth he could barely recall all of them. And he'd made few, if any, real friends in the short space of time in between expulsions. Mostly, he'd been more intent upon causing trouble and irritating his father than anything else. Lex shook his head, indicating he did know which school Bruce meant.

Bruce nodded and rattled off the name of one of Lex' last boarding schools. He hadn't been there long at all, Lex realized. Not even a whole semester. "I was a year ahead of you," Bruce supplied. "I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't noticed me; you didn't stay long." His voice was teasing and his smile even more so.

"Yet you remember me?" Lex countered in an equally teasing manner.

Bruce shrugged again and leaned a little closer to Lex, his elbows resting on the table, fingertips lightly tapping together. The smoldering look had returned to his eyes, and Lex was certain now that he knew what that look might mean. "You intrigued me," Bruce breathed before leaning back comfortably in his own leather chair. "Not everyone in that school had the same... influence... as I did."

"So I see," Lex commented dryly. He might have pursued this further, had Bruce not suddenly switched back into business mode.

"I had a chance to look at the plant's yearly fiscal reports last night," he told Lex coolly. "The profits were small but promising. I'm puzzled as to why it was even closed, let alone why it's being sold."

Lex sighed, wondering how he'd managed to go this long without such a question from anyone. He didn't particularly want to answer, but Bruce seemed to be waiting for him to say something...

"Let's call it a power play on Dad's part," Lex supplied cryptically.

"Oh? So this was a personal decision?"

Lex laughed bitterly. "You could say that, although you'd be fooling yourself if you thought anything Lionel does is personal. Even raising a son is business move for him." Bruce nodded thoughtfully and thankfully pressed for no further information on the reason for the sale.

The door from the waiting room opened and Alfred appeared in the doorway. "Master Bruce," he politely interrupted.

"Yes, Alfred?"

"Bad news I'm afraid. I can't seem to get anyone to answer at the hotel, sir."

The hotel? Lex swore loudly enough to draw attention. Bruce and Alfred turned to him expectantly. "If you mean the hotel here in town, you're not going to get anyone," he told them.

"Oh?" Bruce inquired.

"It was gutted in the storm. I saw it on my way into town yesterday." He racked his brain for a moment and then added, "the nearest place I know of is in Metropolis."

Bruce looked uncomfortable at this suggestion. "No offense, Lex, but that's too close to Lionel for my comfort."

"Can't say as I blame you there," Lex quipped.

Bruce frowned, a shadow darkening his face. "Well, that's... inconvenient." The annoyance in his voice was unmistakable.

"I am sorry, Master Bruce," Alfred added from the doorway.

Bruce shook his head in consternation. "It wasn't your fault, Alfred. Can't really blame an act of God, either, but I suppose this will make it hard for me to get a feel for the town."

"You were looking to stay for while?" asked Lex and Bruce turned to look at him intently.

"I had thought to stick around while I decided what was best to do with the property. You know, see what would best suit the community. But I can't really do that stuck in Metropolis, now can I?"

'That's very... philanthropic of you," Lex commented, suddenly worried more about the fate of his former employees than about Bruce's hotel. "Had you given any thought to what your options might be?"

"No, I hadn't really," Bruce admitted. "Why?"

Now it was Lex's turn to shrug. "I might have ideas. Care to discuss it with me over dinner?" he asked. No ulterior motives there, Lex thought to himself dryly as he thought he detected a hint of interest flickering in Bruce's eyes.

"That'd be really nice, Lex," Bruce said apologetically. "But I can't accept an invitation to dinner and still drive to Metropolis tonight."

If it was possible, Lex thought Bruce looked even more annoyed now that he'd made the offer of dinner. He could barely hide the smile forming on his face as he said, as nonchalantly as possible, "I might know of a place with a few available guest rooms."

Part 3

Lex gave the staff at the castle explicit instructions to see to the needs of his guests and then made his way to his office while a butler showed them to the guest rooms. He was contemplating the events of the day when Bruce arrived in the doorway. Lex hadn't heard him approach, he realized, and his eyes narrowed slightly. His expression lightened soon after, however, when the other man stepped into the office in one sensual motion.

"I was told there was a fax machine in here," Bruce offered as an explanation for his sudden arrival.

"Anxious to get those looked at?" asked Lex.

Bruce shrugged, smirking, and said, "If a man's own son doesn't trust him, it's usually a sign."

Said son smiled faintly, but made no comment. Instead, he waved a hand in the direction of the fax machine and phone on the desk. "It's all yours." He made his way for the door, intending to give the young business tycoon some privacy.

Bruce's voice stopped him. "You can stay if you'd like, Lex," he said quietly. Lex was surprised to hear the trust in his voice.

He smiled again, not so faintly this time. "No, I'll go. Give you some privacy with your lawyers and... keep up appearances."

Lex left the office and made his way to the den he'd been using as a substitute for the collapsed library. He walked over to the mini bar, pouring himself a drink. Then he crossed the room, throwing himself down in one of the leather chairs in front of the fireplace. He tasted the alcohol, savoring it as he swirled the amber liquid thoughtfully in it's glass. Normally, he wouldn't play with his alcohol, just drink it. But tonight Lex wanted to stay sober.

"Start the party without me?" A smooth, dark voice interrupted his thoughts.

Lex looked up as Bruce entered the den. "Have a drink," he offered, motioning to the mini bar with his glass. He watched his guest cross the room and reach for a glass. He liked the way the young billionaire moved, subtly and yet with all the stealth of a jungle cat. Lex took a drink, smothering the smile that suddenly formed on his face.

"Did the fax go through all right?" he asked as the object of his increasing desire eased into the chair opposite his own. Bruce nodded, but declined to say what his lawyers had thought of the deal Lionel Luthor was proposing. Lex didn't push it either. He was, frankly, tired of his father's manipulations.

"Cozy place you have here," the comment came with a wry smile. "The manor almost looks natural nestled in among all these farms."

"Almost," Lex echoed, chuckling. "It's become home for me, though," he admitted. "I didn't think it would, but it has."

Bruce nodded and the two of them finished their drinks while chatting amicably about the town. He wanted to know everything Lex could supply about the community. As they talked, both men gradually drifted forward in their seats, until their faces were less than a foot apart. The proximity distracting, to say the least, and Lex was soon envisioning a much closer scenario.

Presently, Bruce rose from his chair, reaching for the empty glass he'd set on the side table between the two chairs. As he started to move towards the bar, Lex stopped him, taking the glass gently from his grasp.

"Lex?" Bruce's voice was low, deep and questioning, but he did not attempt to move away from the man whose name he'd just uttered. Lex took this as sign and pulled Bruce swiftly into his arms, his lips finding the other man's in a hasty attempt to kiss him. At first, Bruce did nothing... but then he responded by slipping his arms around Lex's waist, pulling their bodies close together. His lips opened slightly, allowing Lex easy access to the inside of his mouth. Lex took the bait, sliding his tongue against Bruce's sensually, and was rewarded as a low moan escaped him.

There was a ringing in Lex's ears, and it took his mind a moment to wrap around the truth of what it was--his cell phone. "Damn," he muttered, releasing Bruce and retrieving the offending phone. "Lex Luthor," he answered quickly. "Oh, hi, Dad," he said, frowning.

As Lex fended off his father, Bruce picked up his glass. Filling it, he slipping into a far corner of the den. Lex noticed the retreat, and recognized the detached air the other man now exuded. Just like at the plant, Lex noted, when he'd had swiftly gone from flirtatious to business in a matter of seconds. He wondered what kind of man could just turn himself off like that. But he didn't get the chance to ask, as no sooner did he say good-bye to his father than a servant appeared in the doorway.

"Dinner is ready, Mr. Luthor," she said politely.

Lex nodded. "Bruce?"

Bruce also nodded, and finishing his drink, followed Lex into the dining hall.

They entered to find Alfred waiting patiently. "Master Bruce..." the older man began. "I just wanted to make sure you didn't require anything before I left, sir?"

"You won't be joining us, Mr. Pennyworth?" Lex asked suddenly. He was seized by a sudden fear of being alone with his guest. They'd gone too far earlier, he realized. It was obvious that even Bruce thought so. Why else would he have reversed himself so quickly?

Alfred shook his head. "I was going to take my meal in the kitchen, sir," he informed Lex in a very accommodating manner. Like a servant, Lex noted.

"Nonsense," Lex told him. "You're my guest, too, and I insist that you join us."

"Please, Alfred?" his former ward interjected quietly.

Lex couldn't help but notice the look of silent communication that passed between his two guests. Bruce didn't want to be alone with him, either, it would seem. He was suddenly disappointed, but as usual, didn't let it show. Instead, he turned his attention back to his other guest. "Well?" he inquired, trying hard to mask the rejection in his voice.

"I suppose it couldn't hurt," Alfred agreed at last.

Lex smiled--not one of the genuine smiles he had been sharing with Bruce all day, but one of the ones he usually faked for everyone else in the world--and sat down at the table. His companions followed suit, Bruce choosing the seat closest to Lex.

"So, Lex," Bruce began as a servant handed him a plate laden with food. "You said you might have ideas for the future of the factory?" Lex nodded, suddenly finding himself under close scrutiny. "May I ask you something first?" Bruce asked in an almost personal manner. Lex heart skipped a beat at the private tone of voice. Again, he nodded. "What would you personally be doing if you were still in charge?"

"What?" Lex asked instantly. It wasn't anything like he'd expected from the tone Bruce had used.

Bruce laughed heartily for minute, seeming amused by his reaction. Lex was beginning to wonder if he knew the torment these games were causing inside him. "If the fertilizer plant was still yours to run, what would you be doing with it right now? What plans did you have for it?"

"You're asking me?" Bruce nodded intently, and Lex realized he must be serious.

As if to emphasize this realization, Bruce added, "Like I said, the fiscal reports were impressive. It's clear you had a hand in that success, and I was just curious to see if you'd given thought to how you could have increased your profits and productivity."

He flashed him a smile, and Lex was surprised when he found himself mirroring it. Like a switch, he found himself thinking as his wouldbe paramour's emotional about-face left him momentarily bewildered. But he also found himself willingly answering Bruce's questions. "Actually, I was planning to start the year by looking at our environmental policies," he began.

"There are a few new codes being reviewed by the EPA, I believe," Bruce commented, fixing Lex with an intense gaze.

"Yes, there are," agreed the young Luthor. "And while we're okay for right now, I have a feeling there could be trouble ahead if any of them get passed in the next year."

"Preventative measures, then?"

Lex nodded, meeting Bruce's mild smile with one of his own. A real one this time. He couldn't seem to help himself, despite how he felt about the fiasco in the den. The conversation continued in a similar fashion-- a mix of flirtatious overtures and intense looks combined with business and food. Lex found himself casting glances at Alfred, just to see if the older man, who was obviously a father figure for the Wayne heir, had registered these advances at all. If Alfred had, he made no sign of it. Instead, he joined into the conversation if spoken to, adding quiet commentaries and offering timely information.

*L*E*X*

Lex awoke around midnight, drenched in sweat and tangled in his bed sheets. It was the second time he'd awakened that night, and something told him he wasn't going to fall back to sleep easily. Every time he closed his eyes, a dark face was there, lips curled sensually into that all-knowing smirk which had tormented him all day. Bruce... Just knowing he was asleep in a bed down the hall was driving Lex insane, even to the point where his dreams were full of guilty pleasures.

When he'd awakened the first time--somewhere around 10:30--Lex had managed to suppress the urge go to his room. He'd convinced himself it would be futile. That the kiss they'd shared in the den had been a freak thing and that anything more would be unwelcome. But now Lex wasn't so sure he'd been right in that assessment. Something more than desire was calling to him, pleading for him to follow through on the promise made by that one kiss.

Not even Victoria Hardwick, his long-time lover, had ever evoked such a response from Lex in all the time they'd been carrying on. If anything, Victoria evoked something very different... a sort of "dutiful lust" born of convenience and not from any real desire to be with her.

Throwing the sheets away from his body and reaching for a robe, Lex pushed the unappealing thought of Victoria from his mind. If he wasn't going to sleep this night, Lex decided, he was going to get to the truth behind Bruce's fiery gaze.

Part 4

The first thing Lex noticed when he entered Bruce's bedroom was the empty bed. His heart started to sink until he saw that the door going out to the balcony was open. Then he smiled, making his way across the bedroom to the open door.

Bruce was alone on the balcony, half obscured by darkness. Lex paused in the doorway, admiring the shadowy form before him. As before in the den, he was struck by the impression of some sleek jungle cat. He stood at the railing, hands gripping it --still as a statue and yet poised as if just on verge of movement. He looked as if he might spring forward at any moment, a jaguar pouncing on its prey.

"Hello, Lex." Bruce's voice cut the night's silence, breaking into his thoughts. Lex briefly wondered how the other man had known he was there. He had hardly made any sounds or telling movements. This question, however, vanished as swiftly as it had come... expelled by the realization that Bruce's voice was different, as if the darkness of the night had invaded him, making his voice deeper, more shadowy... maybe even a little scary. The contrast between this and the teasing, laughing man he'd expected was startling.

One more piece of the enigma, Lex thought as he studied the man before him. Bruce shifted slightly, turning to face his companion in one fluid movement. He stepped forward only two steps, the shadows falling away from him as he did, slowly revealing himself.

"Join me," he said in a husky voice. Lex shivered, unable to do anything except stare into Bruce's eyes. They were a dark brown in the daylight, but in the night, they seemed more like two black voids. Endless and infinitely dark.

And captivating.

Lex could hear his heart pounding as he stepped forward to join the man on the balcony. He'd only taken a few steps forward, however, when Bruce closed the gap between them in three long strides. He reached for Lex, roughly pulling him against his chest. His arms tightened around Lex--holding him captive-- as his lips crushed down upon Lex's in near brutal assault.

Lex reveled in the sensation of being in Bruce's embrace. This, he realized, was better than any dream he could entertain in his mind. It was real. Real... his mind wrapped itself around the word as another wave of excitement and pleasure washed over him. This was real...

Kisses rained down mercilessly upon him, and Lex trembled with desire, his body reacting instinctually to each touch. His arms wrapped around Bruce's waist, pulling their bodies much closer together, and a thrill raced through him as the evidence of his wouldbe lover's growing arousal pressed against his own. He moaned, and at the same time, a low rumble emanated from the man in his arms--a deep growl that vibrated against Lex's chest as it rose to the other man's throat, where it was swallowed up by another searing kiss.

Unable to help himself at this point--not that he wanted to--Lex opened his mouth for the other man, inviting the tongue that had been licking him savagely inside to explore. His initiative was rewarded as Bruce moaned out his name. The words were accompanied by another low growl, and the sound of it caused Lex's eyes to close as pleasure flooded his body.

And then, like the tide receding from the shore, it was gone. Bruce was gone, having released his hold on Lex... having retreated again, Lex realized at once.

Lex's eyes were still closed, and he was honestly afraid to open them, afraid of what he would see. At best, Bruce would be gone; at worst, he would still be there, but totally detached again... as if nothing had happened. Lex wasn't sure if he could handle that.

He willed his eyes to open at last...

...and they revealed Bruce leaning against the door frame, watching him with a mirthful expression on his face. Smirking at him, like he'd done all day... and no sign the dark, intense mood he'd been in a few minutes before.

"I think the bedroom would be more accommodating, wouldn't you agree?" he said in a laughing voice. He held a hand out to Lex, as if he expected Lex to take it. Lex stood there contemplating the hand like it was alien. "Come on, Lex," Bruce urged, still smiling. "You know you want to." This last part was spoken in the same darkly sexy voice that had invited Lex to join him on the balcony.

Lex reached for the offered hand, grasping it firmly, and followed Bruce into the bedroom.

*L*E*X*

Lex awoke from a light sex-induced sleep to the sensation of fingers skimming across the back of his neck. "Mmm... Bruce," he murmured happily. "That was..."

"Spiritual?" Bruce supplied. Lex opened his eyes to look at him. It wasn't quite the term Lex might have used, but once he heard it, he realized how aptly it fit.

"Something like that," Lex admitted, shifting his position in the bed so he could kiss Bruce. His lips were still sore from the punishment they had received earlier, but Lex didn't mind. He kissed his lover, enjoying the taste of sweat and desire on his lips.

The kiss ended abruptly, however, when Lex momentarily opened his eyes. Something flickered in the darkness of Bruce's eyes, and that something stopped him. Kiss forgotten, Lex gazed deeply into those dark orbs, mystified as an image of himself danced in them. Only it wasn't him as he saw himself, Lex realized at once. It was... as if Bruce had somehow managed to capture his soul in the depths of his eyes.

A smile played across his face at this new thought... a thought of a love so deep it conversely overwhelmed and set him free at the same time. Spiritual... that's what Bruce had said. He might just be right, Lex thought as he drew his lover to him, renewing the kiss.

*L*E*X*

Even before his eyes opened, Lex knew the bed was empty save for himself. A wave of panic overtook him, but faded when he finally did open his eyes. The door leading to the balcony was open again; Lex knew without a doubt that Bruce would be there.

He slipped from the bed, pulling his robe around him tightly and went outside. As he expected, Bruce Wayne stood at the railing, staring out at a night sky that was already making the transition from black to an inky purple in preparation for the dawn.

"It's beautiful" Bruce said as if he'd known all along that Lex was there, his voice once again deep with that dark, brooding something Lex had yet to decipher. "Join me." He patting the railing beside him, but didn't look to see if Lex would do as he asked.

"Couldn't sleep?" Lex inquired.

"I don't sleep much," Bruce countered darkly.

"Oh?" Lex approached the railing, slipping an arm around Bruce as he did. Bruce did not answer, but instead moved so he was holding Lex in front of him, both of them facing the night sky. They stood in silence for awhile, Bruce's arms tightening around Lex until he could feel his lover's heart beating rhythmically through the fabric of his robe.

"Tell me about your family, Lex," Bruce asked suddenly.

The question came as a surprise. "You know Lionel already," Lex answered. He felt his lover's head shake. No, he realized. That wasn't what he was asking for. "I don't really know what to tell you, Bruce. He's my father, but we aren't much of a family. My mother was the only thing that ever made us one, and once she was gone..." With Bruce listening, Lex recounted losing his mother--the pain and grief he'd felt--and discovering that he'd lost his father on the same day. Then they spoke of Bruce's own loss at an age even younger than Lex had been when he'd lost his hair. Lex couldn't imagine what it must have been like to see your parents die in front of you, unable to do anything about it, frozen by the fear you might be next. No wonder Bruce didn't sleep much.

"I'm sorry," Lex said.

"Don't be; it's nothing you can change." Bruce leaned closer, until their cheeks touched. "Scary how alike we really are, isn't it?" He whispered into Lex's ear. Lex turned his face towards the sound and their lips met. They were still kissing a few minutes later when the sound of footsteps and a throat being cleared interrupted them.

"Yes, Alfred," Bruce said without bothering to look. Yet again, Lex found himself wondering how Bruce managed to know who was behind him.

"Sorry to interrupt, Master Bruce," Alfred answered. "I was on my way to the kitchen and wondered if there was something in particular you might want for breakfast?"

Was it time for breakfast already? Lex wondered, as he pulled out of Bruce's embrace. It was still early. The sun was just beginning to come up, he noted, pausing to watch it.

"No, nothing special, Alfred. I'm sure whatever Lex's cook can find will be fine."

"Yes, Master Bruce," Alfred said, turning to leave. "Good morning, Master Lex," he added as an afterthought.

"Alfred," Lex acknowledged, mostly to the older man's back. He looked at Bruce and found his lover beaming with pride. "What?" he asked.

"I'm impressed! Alfred usually doesn't acknowledge my male... friends." He smiled, leaning in to kiss Lex. "He actually approves of you."

Part 5

After a relaxing morning bath, Lex made his appearance in the dining hall. It was empty, save for the maid, who was more than surprised to see Lex at that time of day. He asked her where his guests were, as he'd at least expected to find Bruce waiting for him.

"They're in the kitchen, Mr. Luthor," the middle-aged woman replied. "Should I inform Mr. Wayne that you're waiting for him?"

"No," he told her. "That won't be necessary." He decided--mostly out of curiosity--to go see what either of his guests could be doing in the kitchen. Perhaps Bruce had come up with a request for the cook?

He was more than surprised when he entered the kitchen himself and found both of his guests seated at the servant's table eating...

"What is that?" Lex asked, dubiously eyeing the glob of what he only assumed was food on Bruce Wayne's plate. His voice caused Cook and the other servants to jump, startled by his appearance in a part of the castle he usually never visited.

"Grits," a more blas--or was it casual?--Bruce informed him. He gestured to the other contents of the plate with his fork. "Fried eggs over easy. I broke the yolks. It tastes good that way."

Lex still wasn't convinced. He glanced doubtfully at Cook, who in turn looked apologetic. "I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Luthor," the cook stammered. "It's not like you to be up so early... and... I can start preparing your usual if you'd like?" The "usual" was coffee-- or espresso--with some kind of foreign pastry and sometimes a side dish of fruit, depending on how close to lunch it actually was.

Lex shook his head thoughtfully. "That won't be necessary. I'll just have what everyone else is having," he said. The maid, who had just sat down at another end of table to eat, choked suddenly, spewing coffee all over. Bruce smirked, smothering an amused chuckle with the warped smile.

"Are you certain, Mr. Luthor?" the cook inquired.

"Would I have said it otherwise?"

"No, sir. You're right, sir," she amended quickly, and promptly fixed Lex a plate.

Lex sat down next to Bruce and Alfred, glaring at his lover in mock indignation. The more casual billionaire chuckled and shook his head. "What can I say?" he offered up as an excuse. "I was raised by my butler. We never eat in the main dining room. Far too empty for my tastes."

*L*E*X*

Lex was just finishing his second cup of coffee and third slice of toast--cinnamon raisin smothered in apple butter--when Clark arrived. The farm boy was carrying a box of produce, which he nearly dropped when he saw Lex seated at the kitchen table chatting with two strangers and completely oblivious to the strange looks the servants were giving him.

"Lex!" the young Kent exclaimed in shock.

"Hi, Clark," Lex said with a smile. "Dropping off produce? I didn't order any."

"Ummm... yeah, I know," Clark fumbled with his words while trying to make sense of the scene before him. "Mom thought you could use a few things while you're here. She, umm, said you don't have to pay for it, since you didn't actually order it."

"That's really sweet of her; you'll have to thank her for me."

"Yeah, I will," Clark told him, still looking confused. "Lex?" he asked at last.

"Yes, Clark?" Lex wasn't sure how he managed to keep a straight face. His young friend looked like he'd just discovered life on other planets.

"Whyareyoueatinginthekitchen?" The question was asked so fast Lex almost missed it.

"Isn't that what people do?" Behind them, Cook dropped a spoon; it clattered as it hit the floor. Lex's guests exchanged amused glances. The maid snickered. And the billionaire remained seemingly oblivious to the fact that he'd said anything remotely funny.

"But Lex, you don't usually...?" Clark was blushing now, and Lex had to chuckle.

"It's okay, Clark," he told the young man, laughter still present in his voice. He shrugged. "Call it a change of pace. My guests are more comfortable here than in the main hall, and I felt like accommodating them."

"Oh!" The farmer's son looked relieved. Then his expression turned uncomfortable, as if he'd just made a fool of himself in front of strangers.

As if reading the young man's thoughts, Lex chose that moment to introduce them. "Clark, these are Bruce Wayne--" The other billionaire smiled, extending a hand to Clark "--and Alfred Pennyworth. They're... business associates of mine." It was only half true, or rather just not totally a lie, but Lex didn't think his friend could handle it if he knew the whole truth.

"Business associates?" echoed Clark.

"Bruce owns Wayne Enterprises--a company out of Gotham, if you've heard of it?" Clark shook his head, indicating he had not. This wasn't unexpected. "He's going to be the new of owner of Plant Number Three. We're just working out the details now." While Clark digested this information, Lex directed his comments to Bruce. "Clark here was my first friend here in Smallville. He saved my life."

Clark blushed again, this time more furiously. "It was nothing, really," he muttered. "Just CPR." Clark shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "I... I should get going," he said at last. "Dad's got a long list of chores for me today. Things to fix and--oh!"

"Oh?" Clark's serious expression sobered Lex instantly. "What is it? Is something wrong?"

"I almost forgot... there was something I wanted to ask you."

"Yes, Clark?"

The young man made eye contact and Lex could see a sorrow he hadn't noticed before. "My dad said there isn't going to be any federal aid coming... to, umm, help the town and farmers after the tornado... Lex, is it true?"

Lex was dumbstruck. It hadn't seemed possible for things in Smallville to get any worse that they already were... and now they had.

"Lionel?" Bruce asked suddenly, his voice tight with emotions Lex knew all too well. Anger. Innate hatred.

"It's possible," the hated man's son replied.

"No, it's not!" Clark interjected vehemently. He fixed his friend with a look that clearly said he couldn't believe Lex was even entertaining that thought. "How could your dad have anything to do with it? And why would he even want to?"

Poor Clark, the Luthor heir thought with a sigh. The young man would never make it in the world outside Smallville. He'd be eaten alive for sure. "Don't worry about it, okay? I'll make some phone calls and see what I can come up with, and while I'm doing that, maybe you could do me a favor?"

The boyish face clouded over. "I don't know, Lex. There's so much work to get done and--"

"It won't take you away from your chores, Clark, I give you my word." The young farmer nodded hesitantly. His friend smiled slightly. "Good," he commented. "I need you to ask your father how quickly he can arrange a town meeting, and then call me when it's been done."

Clark nodded again, the gravity of the billionaires' expressions obviously scaring him. "Lex? It's bad, isn't it?"

"It could be, yes." Lex told him honestly.

*L*E*X*

Lex waited until Clark had left before storming out of the kitchen, heading straight for the den. Upon entering, he reached for the first thing he saw--a brass candlestick--and hurled it across the room angrily. As if pulled by some magnetism, the gaudy bauble made impact with one of the stained glass windows, which in turn shattered.

The sound of strong hands being clapped came from the door behind him. Lex whirled around to find Bruce leaning against the doorframe. "Feel better now?" his companion asked.

"A little." Their eyes made contact. "Not really," he admitted.

"I didn't think so. Care to tell me about it?"

"About what?" Lex wasn't used to people genuinely caring about him. In fact, he couldn't be sure if Bruce wasn't the first lover he'd taken who expressed any real concern for him... his feelings, his life. It was something new and a little frightening.

As if he guessed what was going through the other man's mind, Bruce shook his head sadly. Sighing, he said, "About why you care so much, Lex? It doesn't exactly fit the image of you painted in any of the newspapers. So, I have to wonder why you're letting yourself get worked up over the fate of one little town." His expression made it clear that the words weren't meant in malice; Bruce was just trying to understand him better.

Even with that knowledge safely tucked away in his brain, Lex still felt cornered by the question. He couldn't help it. It was too personal, almost, despite all he had so recently shared with Bruce already. Too emotional, and Luthors weren't supposed to be emotional. That admission afforded Lex a laugh. Sometimes--like now when his family name meant something horrible for any number of innocent people--he didn't want to be considered a Luthor at all. Sometimes... sometimes he wished there was something better than that.

And for a while he'd actually thought he'd found that something better in Smallville.

Lex turned his back to Bruce, unwilling to let him see the full extent of the pain in his eyes... or his struggle to come up with a coherent answer.

"I told you that Clark saved my life once," he began at last. "I just didn't tell you how." He recounted the events of his first day in Smallville--his disappointment with being there, seeing the fertilizer plant and feeling sure it was a punishment, and the accident which should have claimed his life. Of course, he left out any suspicions he might have about Clark Kent, but he made sure Bruce knew that if it hadn't been for the farm boy, he would most likely dead now. Then he paused, still unable to look at his lover. This next part was so personal; he hadn't shared it with anyone, not even Clark. "The next morning, I woke up early... earlier than I ever have in my entire life, except for maybe today... and I saw the sunrise for the very first time. It was like seeing whole world being born anew, and I was being born again with it. A truly amazing experience."

Lex finally turned back to face Bruce, who was gazing at him intently--a mixture of sympathy and understanding in his eyes. "I owe a lot to this little town," he concluded. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to let my father ruin it because of our personal issues."

"You can't fight him alone, you know," Bruce said at last, his expression darkening.

"I don't have much choice. He's been methodically cutting me off from all the support I could have expected."

"Not all, Lex. Not all." Their eyes met and something passed between--the silent acknowledgement that the Luthor patriarch had not counted on the sale resulting in a budding relationship between his son and his strongest competitor. Nor had he factored in how a little chaos--like finding out that FEMA wasn't lifting a finger for Smallville--would affect a young man on verge of the ultimate rebellion.

Lex felt his lips curling into a perfectly evil smile, mirroring the one now present on Bruce Wayne's face. "We'll have to work fast," he said. "My father was less than pleased to hear you hadn't signed the contract yet. I'm sure he wanted me back in Metropolis by now."

Bruce's expression darkened again. "Doesn't like to wait, does he?"

"Not particularly."

"Well, then," came a final, direly spoken pronouncement from the head of Wayne Enterprises. "He'd better get used to it."

Part 6

Lex thanked the waitress as he took the coffee he'd ordered out of her hand. The young woman--who on any normal day would have been smiling shyly at him, Lex noted sadly--merely frowned at him as if he had no place being seen publicly in Smallville. Let alone in the Talon, even though he technically owned it. Lex let it slide, just as he had the rest of looks he'd received that morning.

"I'm sorry, Lex," Bruce said as he motioned for the girl to set his cup on the table in front of him. He'd looked up from the papers he'd been going over--the suggestions his lawyers had made regarding Lionel's contract--just in time to see her scowling at Lex.

"For what?"

"For insisting on seeing the damages. People really hate you here, don't they?"

Lex shrugged, acutely aware that the waitress was hovering nearby-- listening to them. "I just keep reminding myself that they have good reason to hate me. My father."

"Then their hatred is misplaced," Bruce pointed out. He tapped one of the papers in front of him, drawing it to his companion's attention. "Your father's a very devious man, you know that? This..." he said as Lex leaned closer to examine the document. "Could have left Wayne Enterprises vulnerable sometime down the road."

"Good thing your lawyers caught it, then." Lex took a sip of his coffee, sighing heavily. Between waking up earlier than he was used to and the adverse--but not unexpected--reaction he'd been getting from people all over town, he was feeling run down. Hence the trip to the Talon. A little caffeine to boost his energy levels. "What do they suggest you do?" he asked.

Bruce grimaced. "You don't want to know," he replied a rueful chuckle. "I just hope Lionel's not in a hurry to get his money."

Lex groaned. When he hadn't been on the phone trying to get the bottom of the disaster relief quandary, it'd been his father he'd been talking to. Or listening to, rather... nodding and saying things like "Yes, Dad. Of course I will." and not really meaning the words beyond their effectiveness to pacify his father. And even that, he knew, was a temporary fix. "I suppose they know best," he added, "but I won't look forward to making that phone call."

"I could always fax his office; that way, you won't have to deal with it directly," offered the business mogul.

"What? And let Dad think I've bungled this deal?" Lex eyed him with mock-suspicion.

Bruce shrugged. "It was a thought." The billionaire drank down the last of his coffee and set the empty glass down on the table. "You know, you were right. The coffee here is pretty good." He cast a glance in the direction of the waitress, who was still glaring at their table. "The service leaves something to be desired, though." His voice held an edge of annoyance.

"Let it go, Bruce. Her father was one of my employees at the plant and--"

"And that gives her, or anyone else in this town, the right to look down their noses at you?" Bruce's voice had raised now.

Thankfully, the Talon was empty save for themselves and their waitress, Lex noted in relief. "I said let it go. I'm used to it."

"You shouldn't have to be, Lex." His friend's voice rose another octave.

"Is something wrong?" a feminine voice called out from behind them. Both men and the waitress they were discussing turned in the direction of a door behind the counter. Lana stood there, arm in a cast, her brow furrowed in consternation. "Lex?" she asked again, her voice softening a little. "Things okay for you and your friend?"

"Yes." "No." They both said at once.

"Uh huh, yeah," Lana commented as she assessed the two men. "Which is it?" she asked as she walked over to them. "Hi, I'm Lana... the assistant manager." She smiled warmly at Bruce, who returned her friendly smile with one of his own.

"Bruce Wayne," he said, his voice smooth as silk. "I was just telling Lex that your wait--"

"You know, Lana," Lex began, cutting him off. He wasn't up for this. Really. It was nice that Bruce seemed to care so much, but if anyone knew this particular fight was fruitless, Lex did. "You really should be at home. Your arm." He cozied up to her, gently guiding her body into the chair he'd just vacated. Lana flushed slightly at the attention. She was beautiful, Lex thought briefly. Beautiful and young and... he wiped the thoughts from his mind as he sat down beside her.

"My arm's fine," she told him.

"Just a little broken?" Bruce added sardonically, pulling over a chair from another table and straddling it as he move in on her other side.

"Just a little," echoed Lana, flushing again. She made eye contact with him and asked, "what about my waitress?"

Bruce chuckled; Lex sighed. Lana would have to choose now to bring out her determined side, the Talon's financial backer mused. "Bruce thought she could have been a little more... hospitable."

"Actually, I thought she was rude."

"Rude?" Lana's eyes narrowed as she looked in the direction of the girl they were discussing. "We've never had trouble with her before." She chewed on her bottom lip as she mulled the situation over; then she turned to Lex expectantly. He shrugged, indicating it was her call as manager. Lana frowned. "Did you really want to make an issue of it?" she asked Lex's companion.

At this, Lex nudged his lover under the table with his foot. "Oh!" came the other man's startled exclamation. He and Lex made eye contact, and he sighed. "No, I suppose I don't."

"Good." Lana sounded relieved. "Her dad just lost his job and--" she paused, her mouth forming a small "o" of realization. "That's why she was rude to you, Lex?"

"It's nothing to worry about," he told her and this time, Bruce nudged him under the table. Lex glared back at him.

"Uhoh..." Lana commented. "Why do I get the feeling I walked into something I shouldn't have?"

Before either man could answer, both their cell phones rang.

"Bruce." "Lex Luthor." Their voices chimed in at once. Lex clapped a hand over the mouthpiece gently, mouthing the words 'my father' in the direction of his friends before standing and walking to the other side of the room.

"Again? That's the third time today," Bruce muttered to Lana before devoting his attention to his own caller.

Lex chuckled as he heard Bruce's comment. "No... sorry, Dad. I wasn't laughing at you." He listened while his father ranted about how long this sale was taking. Then Lionel paused long to ask why it was taking so long, stating that it should have been an easy oneday job. "Should have been, yes," Lex snorted. "But you had to throw a few surprises into that contract, didn't you? I guess you didn't figure on Mr. Wayne catching them." He said this last part with a small amount of satisfaction. His father hadn't known Bruce Wayne would be coming in person to oversee this sale. He'd expected, as Lex had at first, a flunky. Someone who would hand over an already-signed document, shake his hand and walk away. Lionel was raving again; Lex smirked, privately pleased to have ruffled his father's feathers. Then came the accusation--Lionel's pride rearing it's head long enough to say 'Maybe I sent the wrong Luthor to handle this.' It was no less than his son had expected. Naturally, his father would shift the blame onto him. "But you didn't. As you said, Smallville was my concern," Lex paused, letting his father's own words act as a slap in the face. More angry words assaulted his ears; Lex winced a little, but bit back the cutting remark on the tip of his tongue. Instead he said, "Don't worry about it, Dad. I'm handling it. We may have to make some concessions, but I'm certain the negotiations will go smoothly, and I'll be home before you know it." Lionel seemed to buy it, as Lex could literally feel his father's anger cooling into a chilly silence. They said good-bye, and Lex pocketed his cell phone with a heavy sigh.

"You're going back to Metropolis?" Lana asked as he returned to the table where he'd left her and Bruce. Lex could read the worry in her expression; he nodded coolly.

"Part of the deal with Dad," he told her, not really looking at her, but instead at the front door of their business. "I agreed to return home with him if he reopened the plant. And he did."

"But he sold it," Lana pointed out. Lex nodded. "That's not fair!" she exclaimed.

"Sometimes life isn't fair, Lana," he told her quietly.

"But what about Smallville? What about..." her voice softened to a fearful whisper. "What about the Talon?"

Lex returned to his chair beside her. Of course, he realized. What would happen to Lana's dream of keeping her parents' special place alive if he left? He placed a hand on her shoulder and then let it drift to her back, rubbing in a soothing circular motion. "I can't speak for Smallville, obviously," he said. "But nothing's going to happen to the Talon. Our arrangement stands."

"Even if you're gone?" she inquired, leaning into him. Lex could sense the frustration, fear and exhaustion in Lana. He felt that way, too, he realized as he gathered her gently into his arms.

"Even if I'm gone," he echoed in a near-whisper. He looked over her head to Bruce, and silent message of determination passed between them. It was time to do something about this mess.

Part 7

Lex kissed Bruce.

Comfortably ensconced in the back of the limo--sound-proof, darkly tinted security windows hiding them from the driver--Lex kissed his lover with all the desperation of a man who knows the hour of his death is drawing near. Certainly, as they left Lana and the Talon behind, it felt that way. He'd had always dreamed of escaping from his father's shadow, of being his own man. Writer of his own story. Creator of his own destiny. Now he realized that time had come, and he was seized with sudden fear.

Which was inconceivable, really. After all, he had plotted against his father with Victoria. But this was different. Lex hadn't really wanted to make a clean break from Daddy at that point. A game--what he and Victoria had done had been a game. This was real, he realized. Bruce Wayne wasn't signing on to be a pawn, willing or otherwise. He was offering himself as a partner... a partner in a very dangerous enterprise, one that could prove fatal if they slipped up even once. Somehow, Lex knew Bruce understood this, yet he was still offering.

They sealed the deal with a kiss.

Breathless, Lex pulled away slightly, his hands reaching to touch Bruce, fingers tracing his jaw line tentatively. "You do know what you're suggesting, don't you?" he asked quietly.

"Yes." Bruce leaned back in his seat and placed a hand on Lex's knee. The touch sent a thrill straight to his groin. Bruce smiled a knowing smile and patted the knee lightly. "You think I don't know the risks? Lionel will try to crush us both when he finds out."

"When..." Lionel's son echoed. He hadn't thought about that, but of course Bruce was right. Lionel would find out, and he wouldn't be happy.

Bruce chuckled. "Yes, when," he reiterated. "But I really wouldn't worry about it, Lex. Your father would have a hard time crushing me now as it stands, and by the time we're through with him, he won't be able to touch you."

For a moment, he was taken aback by the somberness in Bruce's words. They'd reached, he realized with a small amount of trepidation, a point of no return. Once past it... Lex shook his head. He wasn't sure he wanted to think past this point right now. Plotting against his father was one thing. Implementing those plans was another thing entirely.

Yet, he still wanted it. God, how he wanted it--could taste it. A victory over his father so sweet just the anticipation of it made his mouth tingle.

"Seconds thoughts?" Bruce inquired, all too accurately reading Lex's internal dilemma. The young Luthor was spared the need to answer right away, however, when his cell phone rang for the millionth time that day.

"Lex Luthor," he said, speaking wearily into the mouthpiece. "Oh, hello, Mr. Kent." He sighed a little, glad at least that it wasn't his father this time. "Actually, I was expecting Clark to call, but-- " Jonathan Kent reminded him that Clark had chores he needed to do, then added sarcastically that it wasn't as if he had anything pressing to do on the farm that afternoon. "I suppose not," Lex admitted with a slight smile. He asked the farmer about the town meeting, made some inquires as to the Kent's ability to bounce back from any potential losses the tornado might have caused, and hung up depressed.

And also with his resolve thoroughly renewed. Jonathan Kent hadn't said much, but from the little he had said, Lex gathered the farm may not be theirs much longer. The thought of his friend losing the only home he'd ever known because disaster aid was not forthcoming--and that his father might possibly be involved in this injustice-- rekindled Lex's anger.

"Town meeting at four," he informed a curious Bruce. "At the school gymnasium."

"The Kent farm?"

Lex shook his head. "Mr. Kent's a proud man. I've tried several times this year to help Clark's family find a way out of debt; his father won't accept my help." His voice was bitter. "Until a couple days ago, I thought he blamed me for..." He shook his head again as if to clear away the depression that was settling in on his brain. "I guess it doesn't matter now. If they don't get aid, they'll lose their farm anyway."

"And a lot of others, too, it would seem," Bruce reminded grimly.

Lex swore, slamming a fist against the leather upholstered seat upon which they sat. All the phone calls he'd made that morning in an attempt to determine what--if anything--his father had done to cut off aid to Smallville had come up with nothing. It was frustrating. "I need to know, Bruce," he said at last, pain evident in his voice. "I--" he paused as the limo pulled up to the gates of the Luthor estate. "I've long since come to accept the things my father has done to me; it's natural to me somehow, the games we play with each other. But I couldn't live with myself if I knew he'd done this, and I let it happen. I need to know if he's involved."

"And you're not finding anything to tie him down." It wasn't a question.

"No; Dad's too good to get caught by his own son. I just wish there were something concrete I could go on, instead of just this feeling that I have."

Bruce's countenance darkened as his brow wrinkled into an expression of thoughtfulness. "There may be a way," he said at last. "My father had ties... to a lot people. I've hesitated to make use of them for myself, but in this case, I see no other alternative."

"Bruce, are you sure?" Like the initial offer of help, this astounded Lex in it's selflessness.

The young Wayne placed a hand on Lex's shoulder, squeezing firmly. "I've never wanted things handed to me because of who I am, but this isn't for me, and as much I'd like to convince myself it would be for you, it isn't even that."

It was for Smallville, Lex realized as the chauffeur opened the door for them at last. For Clark and Lana, Jonathan and Martha Kent, and all the people who would otherwise suffer because his father valued their lives even less than he valued that of his own son. People who did not deserve to suffer because of the games the Luthor men played with each other.

Lex nodded. "Make the call," he said at last, turning to face the house his father had transplanted from Scotland years before. Rebuilt brick by brick to be a living reminder of the Luthors' power over everything they came into contact with. To Lex, it was a symbol of his father's arrogance, and arrogance was a flaw. Perhaps a fatal one, as good as the ancient tragedians could have written it.

"You're sure? No second thoughts?"

Eyes still on the castle, Lex replied, "If my father did this out of spite for me, then he's gone too far. It will end here."

*L*E*X*

At two-thirty, the two conspirators had finally wrapped up their plans for the town... and Lionel Luthor. Bruce had made the phone calls he'd promised--calling up some of his father's old business and political contacts, most of whom had been delighted to hear from Thomas Wayne's son--and had come up with mixed results. It seemed that someone had pulled some strings along the way, but not one of Bruce's contacts had been able to tell them whom.

"It's a start," Bruce said as he knocked back the drink Lex offered him. "And the senator I spoke to said it definitely looks like someone's palms got greased to look the other way in regards to Smallville." When Lex snorted, he added, "I told him I'd be grateful if he could find out who did the greasing."

"Campaign contributions?" Lex smiled for the first time in an hour. His partner in crime returned the smile with his own wicked grin. "Do you think he'll turn anything up?"

"I hope so." Bruce frowned a little. "Is there anyone in town you trust well enough to help us, Lex? Between the tornado and your father, I'm not sure we can do this alone."

"I was actually thinking the same thing... and there is someone I trust implicitly. I only hope he still trusts me."

*L*E*X*

The door opened only a minute after Lex knocked, and Lex found Chloe Sullivan staring at him. Who promptly shut said door in his face with an audible slam.

Lex closed his eyes, counted to ten and this time rang the doorbell. This time he heard his former plant manager in the background, calling to his daughter to get the door.

"Who is it, honey?" Gabe Sullivan asked as Chloe opened the door once again.

"What do you want?" Chloe snarled accusingly when she saw that Lex was still there.

"I need to speak to your father," he said politely, reminding himself that this was Clark's girlfriend and his favorite employee's daughter and he shouldn't be entertaining thoughts of shaking the snark out of her. He'd obviously been hanging out with Bruce Wayne too long, if his tolerance level was already so depleted.

"If you hadn't noticed," Chloe replied, waving a hand towards a kitchen full of cardboard boxes, "we're kind of busy right now... moving." She went to close the door again, but this time, Lex was quick enough to stop it.

"Chloe?" Gabe's voice got louder as he entered the kitchen. "Lex!?" he exclaimed a second later.

"Was just leaving," Chloe added, trying to shut the door on him again. Lex held strong, denying her that pleasure yet again.

"Gabe," he said, his tone neutral despite the fact that inside he was pleading for the man to be more receptive than his daughter. "I need to speak with you. All I'm asking for is a few minutes of your time." And your trust, Lex thought.

The older man's eyes narrowed. "That's what you asked for when you told us the plant had been reopened. And then you betrayed us." Lex could feel the chill in the usually friendly man's voice. "Good-bye, Mr. Luthor," his former employee added, turning away.

"If you'll give me time," Lex began, his desperation showing in his voice at last. "I can explain. Gabe, I need you."

"I suppose you're going tell me it wasn't even your doing. That daddy did all this to us?" The man asked without looking back.

"Well, yes, actually, that's--" His cell phone rang. "Oh, of all the--" Lex blurted out as he yanked the phone from his pocket and whipped it open. " What?" he snarled. "Bruce! Sorry about that... I was kind of afraid it was Dad." Lex listened as Bruce passed on an update from his friend in the senate. The Sullivans watched as his faced turned to ash, his body stiffening in very evident anger. "There have been times," he spoke bitterly into the phone "when I really hated my father. This exceeds those times." His voice was so cold, so full of hatred. He'd been right; his father had paid someone to let Smallville suffer in the wake of both natural and manmade devastation. Luthor-made devastation.

Chloe stepped back away from the door, fear in her eyes at the expression on Lex's face.

"Why don't you come inside, Lex," Gabe said as the young executive finally put away his cell phone. "Your father really is behind all this, isn't he?" he asked as Lex followed him into the cluttered kitchen.

Lex nodded grimly. When Gabe started to apologize, however, he stopped him with a frown. "Don't apologize," Lex told him. "It isn't your place to be sorry for what's happened here; it's mine."

Part 8

They were fifteen minutes late arriving at the high school gymnasium for the town meeting. Despite that, Lex strode confidently into the room and made his way to the podium where Smallville's mayor was trying to pacify the crowd gathered there. His talk with Gabe had been more than he'd hoped for--once he'd won back the man's trust-- and Lex had left that little pow-wow feeling empowered. He felt even more so walking across the room with Gabe Sullivan and Bruce Wayne at his heels. Almost like the emperor his father had named him after.

As he passed by, he saw Chloe scurry into place beside Clark, Lana and Pete. "Ohmigod!" he heard her squeal breathlessly. "I rode in Bruce Wayne's limo! Bruce Wayne! Did you know he and Lex are going to--" Lex chuckled as Chloe's voice faded away from him. He was still smiling when he reached the podium. He pulled the mayor aside, speaking quickly, and then took his place behind the microphone.

There was a momentary silence... followed by the buzz of many whispers.

Lex raised a hand in a gesture for people to listen. "Citizens of Smallville," he spoke into the microphone and the whispering stopped. "I'm pleased to see so many of you here on such short notice." As the eyes of the entire town trained themselves on him, Lex felt a swell of emotions rising inside him to match those present in the faces before him. Anger, sadness, frustration, exhaustion... fear. He swallowed hard, and said in a firm, even voice, "By now, most of you have heard that there will be no disaster relief coming to Smallville. At least not from the federal or state agencies." The crowd murmured with unrest. Lex plunged ahead with his speech. "For this, I am truly very sorry. I haven't lived among you for very long, but I can assure you, I know what this means to you. Several days ago, I stood helplessly listening as my father took away your jobs and then as a tornado--three tornados, if truth be known--" he glanced at Lana, knowing what she'd witnessed. "--ripped through your fields and farms, homes and businesses." Lex smothered the choking feeling that rose in his throat. He was a Luthor--a leader-- and leaders didn't break under pressure. No matter how great the pressure. "It is conceivable that you could have lived without LuthorCorp." A wry smile touched Lex's lips as he said these words. "But to rebuild your town--your lives--without help now... it seems almost impossible to me, and I can only imagine how it must feel to you. If you will let me, I'd like to help. I have some ideas and..." Lex went on to describe some of his ideas for distributing aid--money, supplies, and amenities--to those who needed it. He told them that if they all worked together, they could make rebuilding the town as easy and as painless as possible. Then he concluded with, "Naturally, even I can't do all this alone. I haven't the resources, you might say." He turned to Bruce, who stepped forward now to stand beside him. "But I'd like to introduce someone who does--Bruce Wayne, chief executive officer of Wayne Enterprises." More murmuring from the crowd. Many of them--most of them--had heard of Wayne Enterprises even if they had never seen its young CEO before. "Wayne Enterprises has recently purchased the LuthorCorp plant here in Smallville, and as my friend here can attest, they take an active interest in the communities which house their various holdings. Bruce has offered to assist the town in any way he can. I urge you all to avail yourselves of his valuable assistance."

He paused and Gabe handed him a bottle of water, which Lex drank from in a greedy attempt to moisten his dried mouth. He stepped aside, as if to let Bruce talk. The rustling in the crowd had grown in volume, and not all the murmurings Lex could hear were pleasant. Then someone called out to him.

"Hey, Luthor--why do you care what happens to us?"

"Yeah!" came another angry voice. "You're the one who did this to us!"

Lex shut his eyes briefly, blocking the pain in them from his partner. But he still felt Bruce's hand on his shoulder, squeezing supportively. His eyes opened in time to see Bruce nod to him, encouraging. Glancing back, he saw Gabe nodding as well. "Just be honest with them, Lex," the plant manager turned conspirator prompted.

"You're right," he said, speaking to the crowd, which suddenly fell silent, as if they had not expected him to admit anything. "A Luthor did place you all in this situation, but I can assure you, it wasn't me." Lex paused long enough to let his words sink in. "I'm aware of what you all think of me--of my family--and I can't claim your hatred isn't deserved. My father has made a policy of using Smallville as his floor mat. He's done the same to me, too." He said this part so softly that he wondered who might hear it. A few people in the front row gasped, telling him someone had. He shook his head sadly, and then trudged on as if he hadn't said them. "All I'm asking is that you put aside your prejudices for me and take a little leap of faith. Trust me; let me help you. Let us help each other."

The silence in the gymnasium was deafening.

Lex suddenly needed air. Fresh, outside air. He hadn't had an asthma attack since the day of the meteor shower, but even after so long he still recognized the familiar tightening in his lungs. Sending Bruce a pleading look, he turned and strode out of the building. Behind him, he could hear Bruce fumbling to recover from his abrupt departure.

*L*E*X*

Outside, Lex sank to the ground, leaning against the concrete wall of the school. It had been a false alarm--no asthma. Panic, most likely. He'd never been that honest with anyone in his life. And it didn't help matters that every time he made eye contact with anyone save Bruce or Gabe, he saw someone his father had screwed over in some way. He had no right to ask these people to trust him. It sounded hypocritical. Hell, it was hypocritical.

After a few minutes, the doors opened behind him. "Lex?" Bruce walked over to him and sat down, slipping an arm around him. "You did good, Lex," he whispered, giving Lex a quick kiss on the cheek.

"How's it going in there?" Lex asked, trying to avoid another discussion about his feelings. His feelings didn't really matter.

Bruce sighed. "After you left, all hell broke loose." The would-be town saviors exchanged rueful looks. "Gabe and some guy in a wheelchair came to your defense, though. The mayor just called for a vote, so I decided to excuse myself and see how you're holding up."

Lex was stunned. Jonathan Kent defended him... him, Lex Luthor... Of all the things he never thought he'd see, that was one of the big ones. Made him wonder if just maybe there might be hope for himself after all.

He stood, stretching his body to relieve of the some of the stiffness from sitting on the concrete. "Wonder how they'll vote?" he asked idly. Before Bruce could speculate, the doors opened again and Gabe Sullivan poked his head out from behind the glass. "Gabe?" inquired Lex, forcing himself not to sound worried.

"It's done," the other man said. "They're asking for you both." Then he flashed the two billionaires a thumbs up. The young men sighed in relief.

*L*E*X*

Lex ran his fingers through the dark hair resting on his chest. "Mmmm..." his lover murmured, nuzzling his skin softly. The contented sound pleased Lex immensely. This, he decided, was the perfect way to end an otherwise taxing day: he and Bruce tangled in his bed sheets, neither of them going anywhere.

The sex earlier hadn't been bad, either, he added mentally, his lips turning up in an indulgent smile.

It couldn't last, though, Lex admitted reluctantly. Metropolis and his father were waiting for him. He sighed, wishing he hadn't made that deal with his father or that he could contest it somehow. But because he had, he and Bruce were merely using up borrowed time.

"We still have a lot of things to do, you know," Lex commented, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen between them. Bruce nodded, his hair and cheek rubbing against Lex, sending waves of erotic pleasure through his body. "We should--"

"Shhh..." The man in his bed propped himself up on his elbows, gazing at Lex through seductively veiled eyes. "No," he said, stopping any objections but placing his index finger to Lex's lips.

"No?" the bald man echoed, grinning around the digit. His tongue snaked out, guiding the finger inside his mouth and sucking. He rolled his tongue around it gently, eliciting a moan from its owner.

"No," confirmed Bruce, the word coming out as a harsh growl of arousal. "Pleasure first, Lex; we can discuss business later." He leaned in, capturing his partner's mouth in a firm kiss.

Such work ethic, Lex thought just before abandoning all reason to the pleasures of his lover's touch. It was his last coherent thought before Bruce straddled him, pressing urgent kisses into his mouth.

*L*E*X*

Lex awoke to the intuitive feeling that someone was watching him. Sure enough, he found Bruce sitting on the edge of the bed, keen eyes settling upon Lex's relaxed form. The sale contract he'd been dissecting the previous day was in his hand.

"Don't you ever sleep?"

"No," replied Bruce. "I've been thinking about what we need to do," he told Lex, tossing the prone man his robe. "Come. The sun will be up soon; we've got things to do." Lex groaned, wondering if he could lure Bruce back into bed with his own "pleasure first" edict. But his paramour was already halfway across the room and talking about how he thought they should start the campaign against Lionel Luthor. As Lex listened, he found himself feeling glad that Bruce Wayne wasn't his enemy.

"You realize, of course," he commented, joining his partner in crime on an over-stuffed leather couch against the far wall. "That Dad won't be too pleased with this price cut you're suggesting."

"It's not my intention to please him," his conspirator responded.

Lex chuckled. "No, I guess it's not."

"Besides, Lionel's no longer in a position to call the plays in this game. His tactics are untrustworthy."

"And yours aren't?" quipped Lex. He truly admired Bruce's mind-- among other things--he admitted with a private smile. The young businessman was suggesting they hand Lionel a revised contract complete with at least a fifteen percent reduction in price from what Bruce had originally quoted him. When Lionel accepted--as Bruce would sure he'd be forced to--they would funnel the remainder of the money into a private and very secret account of their own. An account whose sole purpose would be to build Lex up and allow them both to quietly chip away at Lionel until he had nothing left.

"Touch," Bruce allowed with a smirk. "But that's something Lionel won't know until it's too late."

Part 9

Lex faxed a copy of the newly revised sale agreement to his father after breakfast. And then he awaited his father's phone call with mixed emotions. It came a little after ten that morning.

"Dad!" he said as he answered the phone in his office. "Oh? You got it then?" Lionel informed him that this was a dumb question. Of course he'd received the fax, and as expected, he was not happy. "What do you mean 'how could I agree to this?' I had no choice; he wouldn't have bought the damn plant otherwise." Lex shut his eyes and let his father's insults roll off him like waves rolling away from the shore. "Really, Dad... how very immature of you. You can't win them all, you know. You're just lucky he didn't try suing you for those little surprises of yours." This time there was silence. Then Lionel suggested he come to Smallville himself and deal with Mr. Wayne. "No," Lex told him. "Both the doctors here and your lackey in Metropolis told you to stay way from stressful situations while you were recuperating. Smallville isn't exactly paradise right now. Yeah," Lex lied, faking a rueful chuckle. "I actually am looking forward to getting out of this dump." He could literally feel his father beaming at him, the pride in his voice more than evident as he confidently proclaimed that he'd known Lex would come around. Hubris, as Lex knew his father couldn't possibly be proud of anyone but himself. Lex wanted to reach through the phone and choke the smug look he knew was there off Lionel's face. Instead, he asked his father to look the new agreement over once more and let him know if it would be satisfactory and hung up. He knew instinctively that it wouldn't be, but still hoped Bruce was correct in the assumption that their nemesis would cave in to their demands.

In the meantime, he had work to do, preparations to make for the future. His own and that of the town which had shown him the way out of the darkness he'd been living in. Lex smiled a little, a pleasant thought wiping away the memory of his father's call. That darkness was fading away, like morning mists giving way to the sun. Once it was completely gone, Lex would no longer be under his father's thumb, dependent on Lionel's whims.

Until then, Lex had a purpose. A goal. And now, thanks to Bruce Wayne, a way in which to make it all work out.

Soon, Dad, Lex silently told his father as he called up a file on his computer. Soon, you'll know how it feels.

*L*E*X*

Lex found Bruce at the Kent farm later that day. The billionaire was seated at a picnic table on the lawn in front of the Kent porch. He was dressed in blue jeans and a light gray tee shirt and looked totally as ease as he spoke to the farmers seated around him. They were eating lunch, Lex noted, a hungry growl from his stomach reminding him that he hadn't eaten yet. They stopped talking as Lex exited his car and car towards them.

Bruce stood, offering Lex his hand in a firm, friendly handshake. The contact sent a shiver through Lex, which he masked quickly. "Glad you could join us, Lex. Eat yet?"

From his seat on the porch step behind them, Clark snickered. "I'm willing to bet he hasn't. Lex usually has to be reminded to eat," the boy commented.

"Would you like something, Lex?" Martha inquired. "I can get you a plate."

Given the fact that there were paper plates on the picnic table, Lex assumed she meant she would get him a real one from the kitchen to spare him a more pedestrian tray for his food. Ordinarily, Lex might have let her do it, too, but he could feel Bruce's eyes on him, and knew without even looking into those eyes that anything less than a paper plate would be an offense. And maybe Bruce was right, Lex reasoned, seeing how at home the virtual stranger was in the presence of Smallville's farmers. Bruce wasn't afraid to get down on their level--something no Luthor would ever think to do.

"No," he said at last, reaching for a paper plate and a napkin. "I can manage on my own." He smiled at the pleasantly surprised look on her face and the shocked looks on everyone else's. "It all looks so good," he commented, helping himself to the pasta salad. A few of the other farm wives puffed up with pride that Lex Luthor had complimented their simple offerings.

Once Lex was seated on the bench beside Bruce, the conversation reverted back to what it had been before he arrived. Crops--damaged ones--money, and other farming concerns. He was amazed to discover that even though everyone there had their own troubles right now-- their own damages to regroup from--they were still pledging to help one another. They spoke of rebuilding and replanting... but avoided another possibility. Selling out. None of these farmers seemed willing to acknowledge the threat of foreclosure on their horizons. Their determination, as well as their sense of community, overwhelmed and impressed him.

In a lull in the farm talk, Bruce turned to Lex expectantly. "How'd it go this morning, Lex?"

"If you mean with Dad, he called," Lex replied, setting his lemonade down and frowning a little. "It wasn't a pleasant a conversation, either. He hated the new terms," His voice held a slight note of glee.

Bruce smirked. "Didn't figure he would like them, honestly," he added with a shrug.

Lex returned the shrug with one of his own, a mild smirk forming on his face. "Like you said, you're not here to please him."

Wishing to forget his father for a few minutes, Lex decided it was time to change the subject, and asked Bruce how his morning had been. Bruce had left just after breakfast to tour some of the farms and see just what really needed done.

"I think it's safe to assume it was better than yours," his friend commented wryly, causing their companions to laugh. He filled Lex in on some of the particulars about his tour, citing specific examples on some of the farms of things he knew needed the most attention. "I asked our friends here," he concluded, meaning the Kents and the others present "to give me some ideas on where to start. You might call this a brainstorming session."

"Funny, it looked like lunch," quipped Lex.

"That, too." Bruce winked before turning serious. "Did you get a chance to check out those financial options I left with you?" he asked.

Nodding, Lex rose from the picnic table to dispose of his paper plate and plastic utensils.

"What financial options?" Jonathan Kent inquired, waving Lex in the direction of the recycling bins.

"Debt consolidation," answered Lex. "Bruce asked me to see what I could do for you all in that arena."

Before Clark's father could voice any objections, Lex raised a hand in a gesture of peace. "I know, I know. None of you really want hand-outs, least of all from me, but just, before you turn down the offers, ask yourselves how you're going to do any of this on your own." While he meant everyone present, his eyes were on Jonathan's... challenging.

"The bank--" someone started.

"--is owned by my father," Lex cut off the speaker. "And he's already made his position clear. He said he'd crush anyone who stood with me against him, and owning the bank gives him enough power to do it."

This silenced the farmers instantly, and Lex felt a little sorry for them. He couldn't imagine what it felt like to put his heart into something, only to have it ripped out of his grasp. No, he amended. He could imagine it: the Smallville fertilizer factory. While it wasn't his life's ambition, he had given it his all, and his father had rewarded him by yanking it away from him like a broken toy about to be tossed in to a box for the next garage sale. Not that Luthors ever had garage sales.

"My son lost his job when the plant closed," one man muttered in the deafening silence. "And now you tell us your father intends to hold us all hostage... by threatening our homes and farms?"

Lex closed his eyes, breathing deep. Opening them, he looked past the man to Bruce, seeking assurance in his lover's expression. Receiving it, Lex nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, but yes. That's exactly what I'm telling you. However, there may be a way to ease your burdens a bit."

The farmers exchanged guarded looks.

"Boys, I think," Jonathan Kent said at last, "we'd like a little time to discuss your proposals. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing we should be jumping into without weighing all the options."

"Of course," Lex, replied. "I wouldn't expect less of you." He didn't either. Jonathan Kent was an intelligent, and Lex knew he'd make sure the Smallville farmers got a fair deal. He only hoped his friend's father didn't let his dislike of Luthors and charity--or charity from Luthors--cloud his better judgment.

*L*E*X*

"Lex!" "Lex?"

The man in question currently stood in the middle of the ruined castle library. He heard his lover's voice, of course, but wasn't quite ready to answer him and reveal his location. He wanted to be alone and think. Shaking his head, he reached out to touch the beam that had fallen on his father not even two weeks ago. He could still remember trying to lift it on his own--injured and bleeding as he was- -and seeing his father lose consciousness. He recalled his frantic call to 911, begging them to send help now... that they were trapped and his father might not last much longer.

A frantic call, one fraught with fear he couldn't even begin to express. What had he really been afraid of? Losing his father?

No, that wasn't it. Lex hadn't been afraid of losing his father. He could never be that; he'd lost his father long before he'd ever been sent to Smallville. No... it was something else that had filled him with such dread that day...

"Lex?" Bruce pushed the library door open a little further and came in, gingerly stepping around a pile of rubble in his way. Lex watched him silently, thinking how empty his life had been until recently. Smallville had given him a glimpse of something he really wanted--a family, friends, and love. A filler for the loneliness, he realized as Bruce reached his side. "What's the matter?" he asked, eyes full of concern.

"Dad called again while you were out." He took a deep breath. "He accepted your terms, Bruce."

The new owner of the fertilizer plant nodded. "I never doubted he would."

"He's sending the helicopter for me in the morning."

"Joy," came his companion's bitterly sarcastic response. "Is that why you're hiding out here?" Bruce half-teased; Lex chuckled ruefully.

"No... I was just trying to figure out what prompted me to save his life in the first place."

"Ah." Bruce sat, easing himself onto the fallen beam carefully. "One of those big questions." Lex nodded. "Find an answer?"

Sighing, the troubled young man shook his head. "It's all a jumble, really. I remember what happened--what I did--but I can't explain..." his voice trailed off as he reached out to touch the beam upon which his partner sat. His eyes closed tightly, as if to block out the unwanted memories. And then he felt Bruce's arm slipping around him.

"Come on, Lex. Let's get out of here, " the other man said, brushing his fingers lightly over his friend's hand. The contact was comforting. Opening his eyes, Lex followed Bruce from the damaged library.

Part 10

A few minutes later, they were seated across from each other by the fireplace in the den, much as they had been Bruce's first night in Smallville. Lex sipped his drink thoughtfully as he listened to Bruce's account of what went down on the Kent farm after he'd left earlier that evening. The farmers had deliberated and finally accepted the offer of help.

"I'd suggest we celebrate this victory," Bruce concluded with a weary smile, "but you don't seem to be in a celebratory mood right now. And with good reason."

Returning the smile with his own like version, Lex sighed heavily. "I hate Metropolis," he said. "It's never really been home to me, just a place to go. The people there are fake--liars, just like my father. It's nothing I want to be a part of anymore... if I ever did."

Bruce nodded, his brow wrinkling. "I'm sorry."

"Not your fault, Bruce. I did this to myself. If I hadn't been so afraid of--" Lex paused, unable to complete that thought. "If I hadn't saved his life, Dad wouldn't be here to force me back there."

"Afraid of what?" His lover's voice had intensified, darkening with resolve. Damn. Lex had hoped he'd covered that little slip of the tongue. "Lex?" he urged.

Standing, Lex moved across the room, coming to stand in front of the window he'd broken a day or two before. Gazing out the empty windowpane rather than look at his companion, he downed the last of his drink in one gulp. His voice was ragged as he said, "Being alone."

He heard the clink of glass against stone as Bruce set his drink on the floor and a few seconds later felt strong arms wrap around him. "You're not alone." The words were whispered in his ear, soft yet confident.

No. He wasn't, Lex realized. He hadn't felt the least bit lonely since Bruce Wayne walked into his life. But such had not been the case the day of the tornado. Lex had been alone--isolated--that day in the library, watching helplessly as the only family he had left slipped away from him. By the time the paramedics had arrived, Lex had been curled into a fetal position beside his father, his body just starting to go into shock due to his own injuries and the fear that Lionel would die and he'd be utterly abandoned.

Of course, Lex realized now that his father had counted on that-- counted on Lex being weakened enough by his own personal fears to do just about anything--to save his life. Even injured and on the brink of death, his father had manipulated him. And as with the hostage situation earlier that year, there had been no praise for his efforts. No "thank you, son. I owe you my life." Just more of the same crap and abuse he'd become so used to since his mother's death.

Shuddering at the painful memories, Lex allowed himself to relax into Bruce's embrace. His lover's hands shifted, rubbing against his arms as if to warm them. He could the tension in his body melting away with each comforting stroke. It was gradually being replaced, however, with another sensation.

Desire, strong and hot.

Turning in the arms that held him, Lex faced his lover, eyes lit with the fire growing inside him. He smiled when he saw Bruce's dark eyes widen with the knowledge of his intensions. Their lips met, tongues touching in the space formed by two open mouths. And heat... searing heat engulfing them with each touch, each kiss. Another touch, and both men groaned, expressing their needs in unison.

"Bedroom?" Bruce rasped, questioning.

"Here... now... need... so much..." Lex breathlessly informed him between kisses, pulling them both back towards the fireplace while still keeping the embrace intact. He emphasized his words with another impassioned kiss. He caught Bruce's lower lip with his teeth, worrying it lightly before sucking it inside his mouth. Bruce tasted of alcohol and sex, a dangerously addictive combination, and he had to repeat the action as their bodies found a leather-clad lounge near the fire.

Lex pushed his lover down onto the soft leather, coming to rest on top of him in one easy, fluid movement. Staring down, he reveled in the sight of Bruce's wanton visage--lids lowered over smoldering eyes, half-hiding the inferno burning within their depths. And Lex's soul danced amid those flames. Caught again... or maybe never having been released.

"Now..." he uttered again, latching onto Bruce's earlobe and sucking it into his mouth. The man beneath him was growling his desire, the sound sending waves of pleasure and accomplishment washing over him.

"Yes... now..." came a harsh breath of agreement.

*L*E*X*

Bruce stood beside Lex on the main lawn as the LuthorCorp helicopter touched down before them. Lex felt his lover's hand gripping his shoulder possessively as he leaned closer. "Alfred's already made arrangements for us to stay somewhere else," he practically shouted above the din.

Lex nodded. The noise from the helicopter was fading away now. "Tell me again why I'm going through with this?" he asked jokingly, to cover the animosity he knew Bruce felt as well.

"Because it was your idea," was the comeback. The hand on his shoulder slide down his back now, coming to rest on his hip.

"I've definitely had better ideas, then," he quipped. Bruce grinned back at him. It wasn't really a bad idea--returning to Metropolis without angering his father, only to keep tabs on the business and let Bruce know of any impending deals before they happened. It was a little illegal, he knew, but what Luthor hadn't been willing to take those kinds of risks to get what he wanted?

"Farewell, Master Lex," Alfred Pennyworth said as he came to stand next to the two young men. "Have a safe trip." The words were laced with care and concern, and Lex wondered if his friend hadn't been right about Alfred's approval.

He smiled at the older man. "Thank you, Alfred," he said. "Take... take care of him for me."

"You know I shall," came the reply and a warm smile.

"Bruce." "Lex." The two men reached out and shook hands. It wasn't the good-bye Lex wanted, but they couldn't risk anything more with the chopper pilot so close. He was most likely on Lionel's payroll, as could be said of half the castle's staff. Still, Lex ached for Bruce's touch, as if he were miles away instead of standing right beside him.

As he sensed what Lex was thinking, Bruce leaned in. "Remember, Lex," he whispered close to his ear. "You're not alone now; you know how to reach me if you have need."

Lex nodded almost imperceptibly as he released his lover's hand and stepped away swiftly. He had to leave now before he lost his nerve and collapsed into Bruce's willing arms. Which, at this point, was a much better option than going back to Metropolis. But he knew Bruce was right, and knew the only way he could forge his own path--away from his father--was by going through with his plans.

Their plans. A light smile flickered across his face as strode towards the chopper and his waiting destiny. His plans no longer included misery or loneliness, and as Bruce had pointed out, the cure for those maladies was only a phone call away.

It was a call Lex intended to make on a regular basis from now on.



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